You Can’t Outrun the Sun

Dawn Runner, photo courtesy of Bill RhodesAlthough summer is over, it’s still important to make sure that you are protecting yourself from the sun.  For those of us who spend several hours a week outdoors, training for local races, marathons, or triathlons, overexposure to the sun can cause lasting skin damage and potentially lead to skin cancer. Although you are less likely to get a sunburn in the fall and winter, 80% of the sun’s UVA rays still reach your skin, even on a cloudy day.

I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Elizabeth Hale, Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU, about her recommendations for sunscreen use.  While Dr. Hale recommends that everyone use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on a daily basis, she recommends a SPF of 50 or higher for runners or triathletes who spend a lot of time outdoors.

Recently, there has been a lot of controversy about the ingredients in sunscreens.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) was warned that some of the common ingredients found in most sunscreens, oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate, may present some risks of toxicity.  The American Association of Dermatology continues to recommend sunscreens containing oxybenzone and Retinyl Palmitate. 

This summer, mysterious white stains started appearing on the black leather seats of my car. After having to remove the stains with some leather cleaner and a lot of “elbow grease”, I finally got my wife to confess that the EWG’s warnings had scared her into switching to sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. 

Dr. Hale believes that some the EWG’s warnings may be dangerous.  For example, the EWG claims:

  • There’s no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer.
  • There’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people.
  • Too little sun might be harmful, reducing the body’s vitamin D levels.
  • The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.

The potential result of claims like these is that some people may stop using sunscreens all together and increase their risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

Coppertone has used its DermaPhoto Booth at some recent public events.  This machine uses UV light to allow invisible, subsurface sun damage to be photographed. They also have an iPhone/iPod app called MyUV Alert that shows the UV Index for your local area and makes recommendations about the type of sunscreen you should apply.

People who use anti-aging skin products like Retinol A or Glycolic Acid need to be particularly careful, since these products make the skin more sensitive to the sun and potentially more prone to damage.

The best things you can do to prevent sun damage and skin cancer are:

  • Avoid running from 10 AM to 4 PM, when the sun’s rays are strongest
  • Wear a hat
  • Cover up with clothing that blocks the sun’s rays
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sweatproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50
  • Reapply the sunscreen regularly

Even if you have spent years in the sun, sun damage is cumulative.  It’s never too late to protect your skin from further damage and prevent any existing sun damage you may have from turning into something more serious. 

Be careful out there.

Related Posts:

Do You Need Sunglasses For Running?


Coppertone recently sent me some samples of its Coppertone Sport Ultrasweatproof products to try.  Dr. Hale is a consultant to Coppertone.

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